|A Tsunami of Dissent – Part Two - An Early Warning from New Orleans|
|Library Archive - Centre Digests|
Page 4 of 9
When Hurricane Katrina swept across Louisiana in 2005 it caused massive damage to the famous city of New Orleans. Readers will be familiar with the level of destruction and there is little point in repeating the statistics that document the economic destruction and human suffering.
Shortly afterwards I was fortunate to be attending a conference in Houston Texas where a group of researchers presented their findings on the post Katrina rebuilding programme.
At that stage the future did not look good.
New Orleans is a much-loved city by tourists and residents alike. And naturally the initial response was to rebuild the City as quickly as possible to minimize population loss and to restore the tourist economy to its full potential.
However, two different groups, with markedly different philosophies emerged, both equally determined to impose their beliefs on the New Orleans world order.
One group believed that the disastrous flooding and general destruction had created an opportunity to rebuild New Orleans as a properly and rationally planned city, and finally put its idiosyncratic, and chaotic past behind it. (A similar debate followed on from the Great Fire of London.) On the other side, the people who actually ran the businesses, provided the accommodation, fed the masses and played the music, and hosted the Mardi Gras were convinced that this “untidy” and rambling diversity of the City was part of its charm.
For some years there was a political stalemate. City Hall ruled but could not force the property owners and investors to implement the Planners’ tidy Utopian Plans.
During this stalemate little housing was built and in one year 130,000 households permanently migrated to Houston because their homes had been destroyed and they saw no sign they would ever be rebuilt.
If only because this massive level of out-migration could not be sustained, the Central Planners either gave up their power, or had it taken from them.
By January 2011, in “The Pelican Post”, an essay titled New Orleans a Model for Urban Renewal, quoted research that found :
New Orleans has been the benefactor of citizen initiative, reduced government and public sector interference on the municipal level, and private capital. …
Likewise, the reduction in city workers by 36% since Katrina has been a boon, but we need to further privatize city sectors such as transportation and security.
It should be clear from Gelinas’s excellent reporting, as well as from the Katrina experience of any New Orleanian, that the government failed us before, during, and after Katrina. It was the drive and initiative of our private citizens who reenergized the social and economic spirit of our city, and it will require these same characteristics to preserve our pace of growth.
The good news has kept getting better. By 31 May, 2011, Joel Kotkin, writing on the NewGeography website in an essay The Katrina Effect: Renaissance on the Mississippi:
“For one thing, the storm undermined the corrupt, inept political regimes that had burdened the area for decades. ‘Katrina shattered the networks and broke down the old hierarchies’ notes Ted Williamson, a New Orleans native and founder of Idea Village, a non-profit organisation focused on aiding local entrepreneurs. ‘People felt we were dying. Now we feel like we are re-founding a great American city’.
“Most impressive, this once stagnant region has transformed into an entrepreneurial hotbed.”
As if writing with the people of Auckland and Christchurch in mind, Joel Kotkin continues:
“One big advantage of starting a business in New Orleans is its affordable housing. This is particularly attractive to middle aged couples with children who can afford a spacious suburban home that are far less expensive than their equivalents in Los Angeles, Westchester or Silicon Valley. ”
In the meantime the central planners of Auckland and Christchurch are determined to keep house prices out of reach of most families, and land prices too high for most start-up commercial ventures.
Kotkin’s last paragraph reminds us of the benefits “waves of creative destruction” can deliver, provided the local economy remains unfettered by reactionary interventionists. He writes:
Coupled with its enormous cultural appeal, resurgence in the more traditional economy could spark the most remarkable urban comeback story of the new century. Once the poster child for urban despair, New Orleans may develop a blueprint for turning a devastated region into a role model, not only for other American cities, but for struggling urban regions around the world.
Naturally, our introspective officials will ignore this example because it has nothing to do with the fantasies of congested Compact Cities combined with the dense thinking of Smart Growth.
|Last Updated ( Tuesday, 14 February 2012 16:11 )|